2016 Election: Can the Primary Results Predict the Next Six Days?

After the 2015 election in San Francisco, I noticed something that I’m sure other more practiced election watchers have known for a long time: San Franciscans don’t vote consistently. Specifically, I was curious how Aaron Peskin was elected to Supervisor in District 3 even as those same voters rejected major policy initiatives he supported (Propositions F [AirBnb regulation] and I [Mission Housing Development Moratorium]). That inspired me to look at the election results for the whole city and see how that might impact the local races in the 2016 election.

With just a few weeks to go, I’m going to try to do the same thing with the primary election results.

Note #1: the results were finalized waaaay back on June 24, 2016.  The reason I didn’t publish this sooner is that I screwed up all my excel tables and didn’t notice until I was about to hit publish on the post. So I went back and had to redo all my analysis and rebuild all my visuals. It was a real bummer, but I’m not perfect and this blog is more for my own edification than anything else. The end result is that this post is super late and looks at far fewer election results than originally planned.

The central question of the previous post was “do local election results give us any insight into what will happen in November 2016?” Today we’ll look at the results of the (1) presidential primary, (2) state senate primary, and (3) results of Prop C (raising the affordable housing %).

Note #2: I’m going to focus on who I believe are the two main candidates in each race. Sorry other candidates. Many of you are great and deserve attention, but I’m not really promoting anyone here. I’m trying to better understand how San Franciscans vote.

Disclosure #1: even though I literally just said “I’m not really promoting anyone here” I have my favorites. I can’t help it. That’s how I feel, and I just want to be honest. Marjan Philhour is way up there.  The reason? She’s committed to a high information campaign. Her medium page is full of very nuanced policy positions, which she began writing back in April and continues to update. Her opponent, Sandra Lee Fewer, is very smart and accomplished, but took a lot longer to get her policy positions out to the public. On the issue I care most about, housing, I believe Ms. Fewer’s positions, which mirror those of Aaron Peskin, will only increase prices and expedite displacement to the detriment of the neighborhood and the city. At a debate on October 26, she reiterated her commitment to building only 100% subsidized housing, which is tantamount to building nothing. I have no qualms with subsidized housing; we need as much of it as we can get. However, we currently fund affordable housing projects through fees on market rate developments. Building 100% affordable housing means disallowing market rate housing, which would simultaneously exhaust our affordable housing funding, provide very few units, and eliminate a crucial source of funding for future projects. Promoting the construction of only “100% affordable housing” sounds great, but it’s basically the policy equivalent of the sound of one hand clapping.

Joel Engardio is another fave. He’s also committed to an extremely high information campaign. He also has the right idea on housing and transportation. His opponent, incumbent Norman Yee, doesn’t; but is pretty low key about it. He doesn’t quite get my hackles up like Fewer does because he’s less forward leaning in his backward views.

District 1: Sandra Lee Fewer & Marjan Philhour

Back in February, I wrote that based on the previous election results, I thought Marjan Philhour would win in a squeaker. Most residents of the district supported Mayor Ed Lee’s reelection and rejected Props F and I, though these results were less overwhelming than in other parts of the city.

However, the primary results indicate that District 1 voters have a very idiosyncratic relationship with Progressive candidates and causes. When it comes to progressive ballot initiatives, they tend to vote very similarly to the city as a whole, but the results for Progressive candidates are a little more muddled.

About 68% of District 1 voters supported Prop C, the map of support below. This is basically identical to the city-wide results (D1 voters were slightly more supportive, but by less than 1%).


You can see the Prop’s main support in the district comes from the “Progressive Arc” that starts in precinct 9136 in the SW corner, rises up to California Ave in the Middle Richmond and then heads south again as we head East toward the University of San Francisco.

Jane Kim was Prop C’s sponsor and main proponent and she carried the district in state senate primary with about 47.5% of the vote (her main opponent Scott Wiener received 41.5% of the vote). Compared to the city as a whole, Jane Kim over performed among District 1 voters, but again by only about 1% whereas Scott Wiener under performed by the relatively dire 4%.


Progressives and moderates can both find reasons to celebrate the map above. Jane Kim surpassed Scott Wiener by a very healthy 6%. She carried the vast majority of precincts. However, she failed to carry a majority of the districts’ voters and only won two precincts with over 50%. The reason both candidates failed to get over 50% is because Republican Ken Loo received 11%, a relatively strong showing for a Republican in San Francisco.

On first blush, it would appear that Bernie Sanders beat Jane Kim in District 1. There’s a much more visible Progressive Arc in the map below. Bernie won an outright majority in many more precincts than Kim did.


However, while his strength among progressives was stronger than Kim’s, he was weaker among moderate voters. He beat Hillary Clinton in the district, but received a lower vote percentage than Kim.

I predict the race for district Supervisor will be very close, perhaps the closest in the city. In the primary, there were more than enough Republican voters (who will vote in the non-partisan Supervisors race) to swing the results to less progressive candidates. If neither Philhour or Fewer receive 50%+1 of the vote, a result I believe is likely, than it will come down to voter’s second and third choice.

District 3: Aaron Peskin & Tim Donnelly

Tim who? Good question. Incumbent Aaron Peskin faces token opposition in late-entrant Tim Donnelly, who’s running because he “couldn’t let Aaron run unopposed.” Democracy is about choices, and Mr. Donnelly should be applauded for doing his district this service.

Aaron Peskin will win re-election to his seat, but let’s take a look at the results anyway.


The results in District 3 largely mirror those in District 1. Aaron Peskin was a big proponent of Prop C, and it performed slightly better in D3 than it did city-wide.

The Prop C map does a good job illustrating areas of political strength in the district. Progressive candidates and causes do well in the Tenderloin-adjacent areas in the SW corner, Chinatown, and along Columbus Ave (North Beach-ish). They do poorly in the Financial District, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, and along the Embarcadero.

This pattern is repeated in the State Senate results.


Like in District 1, Jane Kim and Republican Ken Loo over performed, while Wiener under performed their city-wide results. Also, like in District 1, Kim won without winning a full majority. Despite that, she still beat Wiener by about 7%. Kim is a close ally of Peskin on the Board of Supervisors and her strength is probably a reflection on his.

Unlike District 1, where Bernie Sanders did very well, he under performed in District 3 relative to his support city-wide.

Figure 6: Bernie and Hillary in D3

Figure 6: Bernie and Hillary in D3

Bernie’s failure in District 3 is interesting because he and Jane Kim campaigned together and performed similarly in most districts. This was decidedly not the case in District 3 thanks, in large part, to the voters of Chinatown who strongly supported Kim AND strongly supported Hillary Clinton. These results show that Chinatown continues to be the key to District 3.

As I said, Aaron Peskin is the prohibitive favorite to win reelection. It will be interesting to see exactly what level of support he garners. He’s rumored to want to run for mayor, and a decisive reelection win will go a long way toward helping him realize that goal.

District 5: London Breed & Dean Preston

As I wrote previously, London Breed has the benefit of incumbency despite the fact that she is perhaps not the best ideological fit for District 5, which is, along with District 9, among the most strongly progressive parts of the city. Prop C is a great example of that progressive strength. Almost 75% of District voters were in favor of Prop C. It only did better in District 9.

Figure X: Prop C in D5

Breed’s opponent, Dean Preston, is desperate to brand her as allied with the mayor/too moderate for this district, and back in February I agreed that this might be an effective strategy. However, the results of the primary offer both candidates a pathway forward.


Jane Kim had her third best performance among the voters of District 5, making this district among those that make up the core of her progressive support. It was one of three Districts where she won an outright majority. As you can see in the bar chart, she won a huge number of precincts. Her strongest area of support within the District was what I call “Greater Haight” – Upper and Lower Haight, NOPA, and Alamo Square. Wiener did best in Cole Valley, Japantown, and Lower Pacific Heights. Hayes Valley, the Western Addition, and the Inner Sunset are sort somewhere in the middle, though Kim generally swept them all. This is exactly the path that Dean Preston would like to recreate as he runs for Supervisor.

London Breed, on the other hand, wants to mirror Hillary Clinton, who squeaked out a slim win against Bernie Sanders.


Like Wiener, Hillary lost the Greater Haight, but managed to run up the score in Cole Valley, Lower Pacific Heights and Japantown. However, she managed eke out small victories in Western Addition, Hayes Valley precincts, such that she was able to win the District by a very thin margin.

I’m inclined to believe that London Breed will win re-election largely by following Hillary Clinton’s path. Bernie Sanders, for whatever reason, has endorsed Breed’s opponent (sort of), but his endorsement matters little with the voters Breed needs in order to win her race. She’s from the Western Addition and will probably perform strongly there. Still the path she must walk is a very narrow one, and it should be noted that Hillary won the district with a plurality, rather than majority of votes. If this were a 3+ candidate race, Breed’s name recognition would probably allow her to prevail through ranked-choice voting. With only two candidates, the winner must get a majority of first-choice votes and that happens very rarely for moderate candidates or causes in District 5.

District 7: Norman Yee & Joel Engardio (and others)

Like District 5, the seat in District 7 is held by an incumbent running for reelection (Norman Yee) who may not be the best ideological fit for the district. He’s a progressive in what is probably the least progressive district in the city.

District 7 voters were among the least in favor of Prop C in city. It was one of two districts (District 2 is the other), where it garnered less than 60% of the vote. In fact, in many areas of the district it flat out lost.


Progressive candidates fared even worse.  Jane Kim received only about 38.5% of the vote, losing all but 11 precincts. Scott Wiener received almost 49% and Republican Ken Loo received about 12.5% of the vote.


Mirroring the results of the state senate race, Bernie Sanders received about 38.5% of the vote, Hillary Clinton received almost 49%, and Republicans received 12.6%. These results underscore how ideologically consistent voters in District 7 are.


You might think that progressive Norman Yee would be facing an uphill battle in his reelection effort, given these results. Indeed, the results above indicate he will. However, Yee got a lucky break in that he’s being challenged by four candidates, all of whom are less progressive (Joel Engardio, Ben Matranga. Mike Young, and John Farrell). A divided race benefits the incumbent because higher name recognition will make him more likely to be voters second or third choice.

Joel Engardio ran for the seat in 2012, and was the first challenger out of the gate this cycle. That experience was definitely on display during a recent debate between the candidates (except Yee, who declined to participate). Engardio’s answers reflected a fluency with the issues that the newer entrants did not always have. Had this been a two person race, I think Norman Yee would be facing a very tough race. Case-in-point, both the Chronicle and the Examiner, which are often at odds, endorsed Engardio, making Yee the only incumbent who failed to receive their endorsements. As it is, the fundraising and moderate political establishment is divided. All the challengers would be aided by a coordinated “1-2-3 Defeat Norman Yee” campaign in order to diminish the number of 2nd or 3rd choice votes Yee picks up through name recognition.

District 9: Hillary Ronen and Josh Arce

District 9 remains the most progressive part of the city. Prop C received 75% of the voters in D9, higher than any other district. Only the residents of the Portola, in the very southern part of the district, were lukewarm on the measure.



This was also Jane Kim’s best district. She won 56% of the vote among D9 residents and won the vast majority of the precincts. She performed best in the Mission; in the northern part of the District, and worst in, again, the Portola.



Like in District 5, the other progressive stronghold, there was a neighborhood schism in the presidential primary.


While Bernie remained strong in the Mission, Hillary managed to perform well ahead of Scott Wiener among voters in the Bernal Heights neighborhood. Hillary lost Bernal Heights by less than 100 votes. Wiener lost Bernal Heights by over 1000 votes. Bernie still managed to win a a majority of D9 voters, it was by a much slimmer margin than Kim’s victory.

The progressive establishment has lined up behind Hillary Ronen, and her path to victory is clear; just do what every other progressive candidate has done before her. If Josh Arce has any chance at an upset, he’ll need to outdo Hillary Clinton’s performance, which probably means winning Bernal Heights, and minimizing losses in the Mission.

District 11: Ahsha Safai and Kimberly Alvarenga

I must admit that of all the areas in the city, this is the one I visit least. Hopefully that means the election results will speak for themselves; uncolored by any preconceived ideas I might have had. Most likely it means I have no idea what’s going on.

I do know that many progressive columnists have been hitting moderate candidate Ahsha Safai harder than candidates in other races, a sign that they believe their candidate, Kimberly Alvarenga, is in danger of losing. My previous analysis justified these fears. The district was almost entirely in favor of the mayor’s reelection and against Props F and I. This time, however, Prop C performed fairly well. About 69% of voters were in favor of Prop C, which is slightly better than District 1 and slightly worse than District 3 and higher than the city-wide results.


Likewise, Jane Kim enjoyed similar success. She captured about two-thirds of the districts precincts’ and almost 47% of the vote, which is slightly better than her city-wide result. Scott Wiener’s silver lining is that this was among Kim’s narrower wins, and there are more than enough Republican votes (9%) in this district to impact the outcome.


Like we’ve now seen in several districts, Hillary Clinton out performed the other moderate candidates She also received almost 48% of the district vote, to Bernie’s 45%. We see that the Republican share of the vote was 2% lower in this race than it was in the State Senate race. Hillary had to win a few Kim voters in order to win, but this Republican shift gives us some indication of who they can impact the outcome of close local races.


TL;DR/Supervisor Wrap Up

In the bag: Aaron Peskin has the race in District 3 sown up, in what could ordinarily be a swing district. Watch his support in Chinatown for an indication of what the future holds.

Progressive Girl in a Progressive World: Hillary Ronen is the favorite to win the race in District 9. District 9 voters have voted in favor of every progressive candidate or cause I’ve looked at.

The Benefit of Incumbency?: moderate London Breed (D5) and progressive Norman Yee (D7) aren’t the best ideological fit for voters in their districts. Will Breed’s less-dogmatic voting record and focus on neighborhood services history save her? This writer thinks so based on Hillary Clinton’s victory over Bernie in the district. Norman Yee’s chances seem slimmer. Voters in D7 are very consistent and very conservative (by SF standards). If  he win’s it will be because the field of opposition is crowded and his higher name recognition allowed him to pick up voters as voters second or third choice.

Wide Open: It could go either way in swing districts 1 and 11. Progressives would seem to have the advantage in D1, given the twin victories of Kim and Sanders, but both races could have swung differently had Republicans been included. As we’ve seen in previous elections, D1 voters have history of being lukewarm on progressive causes. Democrats in D11 are slightly less progressive than D1, but the district also has fewer Republicans. I think either of these races could go either way. Both districts have elected Progressive supervisors in the past, but by only the thinnest of margins.

State Senate: Kim and Wiener

Kim’s narrow primary shocked the world! Though I was never really sure why. Jane Kim and Scott Wiener are, in my opinion, our two most forward leaning supervisors. Unlike some of their peers, who receive complaints for being unresponsive, Wiener and Kim are both extremely active Supervisors with lots of legislative accomplishments. On one hand this race should be easy to predict because they already ran against each other (with Republican Ken Loo) in the primary and Kim won, albeit ever so slightly.


Kim’s areas of greatest strength are progressive strongholds District 9 and 5, and District 6, which she currently represents. Wiener’s base is in the ultra moderate Districts 7 and 2; and in District 8, which he currently represents. She won narrowly in District 4 and 11, and by wider margins in Districts 1 and 3. Aside from his strongholds, Wiener only won narrowly in D10. Kim supporters shouldn’t get too excited though. If the November election is as close as as June’s primary was, Wiener will probably win because Loo is no longer on the ballot and there were more than enough Loo voters to alter the results.

If I had to pick today, I would say Wiener in a squeaker.

Reasons why I could be wrong!

Turnout will be high!

The primary had a 56% voter turnout rate, which is actually pretty good for an SF primary (the 2012 primary only had a 30% turnout; 2008 only had about 40%). As high as that is, the November election will almost certainly be much higher. The 2012 presidential election had a 72.5% voter turnout, and 2008 had an 81%. If an extra 120,000 San Franciscans turn out to vote who knows what could happen.

Does race matter?

One important dynamic that I am in no way qualified to discuss is the impact of candidate’s race. Will the Chinese-American candidates (Fewer, Yee) get a boost from Chinese-American voters in their district? If such a benefit exists, will that extend to the Korean-American Kim? Some have argued that it does. Likewise, will Joshua Arce’s Latino heritage help him in the Mission?

I have no idea. I just started looking at elections last year. Let’s wait and find out.

Courting Republicans might turn off other Democrats

I’ve written quite a lot about there are more than enough Republicans to impact the results of the races for Supervisor in District 1 and District 11 as well as in the State Senate race, but candidates like Wiener, Philhour and Safai have to be careful. It’s possible that courting Republicans could backfire and turn off other moderate Democratic voters. It’s also possible that Republicans could be so bummed about being on the San Francisco endangered species list that they could stay home entirely.

Who knows? Life is a grand adventure, isn’t it?

Individual candidates may have other issues

Voters may be ideologically attracted to a candidate, but feel like that candidate has other overriding flaws. Sandra Lee Fewer attracted negative press over her fundraising activities. Likewise, Ahsha Safai attracted negative attention concerning is tenure at the Housing Authority. These issues are personal, rather than ideological. I don’t account for them, but voters certainly will.

Other issues may have come to the fore

I only focus on a handful of propositions, mostly concerning housing and development. However, voters’ attention may have shifted such that other issues like homelessness, policing, or transportation may have increased in relative importance.

We’ll find out the answers to these questions and more in just under a week.


Fighting a War on Two Fronts: Gentrification and Displacement

As San Franciscans watch the vote results trickle in, housing affordability continues to dominate the headlines and the political discourse. Attention continues to focus on the impact of gentrification and displacement on low-income communities and whether or not market-rate development is helpful or harmful.

I believe this kind of thinking represents a false dichotomy rooted in the city’s existing zoning structure that forces all new residents and new development into small pockets of the city that allow multi-unit housing, which them against the existing lower-income residents.

Market-rate Housing is More Like a Vaccine than a Cure

We’ve talked about the San Francisco Housing Wars before (boy, have we ever), and why market-rate housing may not be enough to satisfy current low and middle-income residents. Housing development, as necessary as it is: 1) will not arrive in time to stave off those most at risk of displacement, and 2) it probably won’t ever succeed in bringing prices down. Rather it will only slow the rate at which prices increase.

Even as price increases begin to flatten, thanks to new housing supply, it is almost certainly the case that existing residents’ income is still too low to securely afford housing.

Don’t get me wrong, attacking the cost curve from the top is still a very good thing, because it means things aren’t getting worse. If we don’t produce enough market-rate housing, upper-income people will gobble up all the existing housing that previously served lower-income residents.

Prop I report

Every time housing prices increase, a new cohort of residents now have to turn their attention away from new market-rate housing to lower-cost affordable housing. If prices go from $1,000 per month to $1,100 per month, then all those people who could previously only afford up to $1,000/month no longer can.  We’ve seen this phenomenon in the city’s study on the effect’s of the proposed Mission Moratorium (2015’s Prop I), and the state’s study on the impact of market-rate housing.

state report blurb

If you want to protect the existing stock of affordable housing (i.e. rent controlled units occupied by people paying below market rents), it’s very important to stave off price increases.

So if adding to the housing stock through market-rate development slows (or stops) price increases then the existing affordable housing stock is preserved (i.e. existing affordable housing isn’t turned into market-rate housing through evictions, demolitions, or through the natural churn of tenants).

A War on Two Fronts: Displacement and Gentrification

The process of actual/existing residents losing their ability to live in their historic homes or neighborhoods because of price increases is displacement (if your reading this blog you probably already knew that). Landlords whose apartments were previously affordable can take advantage of the instability of low income populations and lack of vacancy price controls to raise rents, such that a similar low-income family would not be able to replace the one that they just left.

Market-rate housing, unequivocally, is crucial to preventing future displacement. No matter what Tim Redmond says. New market-rate housing diverts higher-income populations away from the existing affordable housing stock. I described the opposite phenomenon in my post If the Development is an Unstoppable Force and the Mission is an Immovable Object, in which new higher-income residents flood the old apartments in the Mission. Without housing development, higher-income populations outbid existing lower-income populations for whatever housing stock exists.

But what if alleviating displacement isn’t the goal? Or rather, what if it isn’t the only goal? I started thinking about this question after Gabriel Medina of the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) strongly opposed the revised plan for the “Beast on Bryant” development, even though it included a much larger land dedication for affordable housing. “It’s better to not build any market-rate in the Mission if you’re not going to build 100 percent affordable… No housing is better than gentrified housing,” Medina said, as quoted in Mission Local.

Many Mission housing advocates have vocally opposed market-rate developments, usually giving the development a catchy, if hyperbolic moniker like the Monster in the Mission, the Beast on Bryant, the Fright on Folsom, and the Titanic Mess on South Van Ness. Their opposition is usually based on the idea that the majority of the units would not be affordable to the existing residents of the neighborhood.

This brings me to the main issue with using market-rate housing construction exclusively: gentrification. Displacement is about individuals, but gentrification is about neighborhoods. It’s when a previously lower-income or minority neighborhood is slowly transformed into a wealthier and whiter one. Here in San Francisco displacement is nested within gentrification. As in, we have gentrification because we have a lot of displacement. This phenomenon is especially noteworthy in the Mission.

Though many refuse to admit itmarket-rate housing development will mitigate displacement. However, it can still propel gentrification.

In the best of circumstances, neighborhood in-migration when coupled with equal housing development can prevent displacement. All the original residents can stay in their apartments, even as the neighborhood grows.

In short, gentrification without displacement looks like this:

gentrification chart

Every new resident changes the neighborhood culture, and character. In high-income neighborhoods, like the Potrero Hill or Telegraph Hill, this produces wails about loss of sunlight or street parking, which should be treated with the appropriate seriousness (none). However, in low-income neighborhoods, this demographic change can alter the political and economic landscape in ways that may not be beneficial to the pre-existing low-income residents. New residents may demand goods or services that are different from those provided by the current retail or commercial environment, causing business turnover. As demographics shift, new residents’ political influence may grow and dilute that of the older residents.

So attacking housing prices from the top, even in the best circumstances, may not be ideal for all existing residents. Gentrification can still occur when the built environment only expands to accommodate new high-income residents.

To combat gentrification and displacement, we have an Inclusionary Housing Policy in San Francisco. It requires developers to provide some on-site affordable housing or pay a fee into the affordable housing trust fund. The point of this policy is to recognize that the current market-rate housing production will not be affordable to low and middle-income San Franciscans.

Inclusionary housing is great. It’s one of the few ways San Francisco can produce new affordable housing. However, it still produces more market-rate housing than it does affordable housing, and thus, can lead to gentrification.

So when Mission Activists protest development, even development that has significant onsite affordable housing, like the recently approved Beast on Bryant, they do so because they see every new project as further transforming the neighborhood. With that, I can’t disagree. I can argue that not building housing is worse, because it expedites displacement and gentrification. But I cannot say that building market-rate housing will not lead to gentrification.

Density Equity Could Turn Growing Pains into Economic Gain

Is gentrification the best case scenario? No.

Baked into our exercise is an assumption that higher-income people can only move into lower-income neighborhoods.

Here in San Francisco, much of the ire in response to the rapid gentrification has been directed at young people who work in tech, because they’re higher-income apartment dwellers who arrived more recently. In truth, there were few areas in which they could move.

San Francisco is only 46ish miles, but two-thirds of that space is zoned for single-family housing (i.e. no multi-unit buildings). Despite our status as the second-densest city in the US, that density is concentrated in a few areas.


That means 66% of the surface of our city is basically off-limits to new residents. If the city would allow multi-unit development in this (often transit-accessible) single-family districts (I’m looking at you, West Portal), then all the residents wouldn’t need to move into SOMA or the Mission.

pig in python

This concept is called Density Equity. It’s a term I first heard used by Planning Commissioner Cindy Wu, used in regards to the 5M development. I don’t know if she would define it this way, but “Density Equity” basically means that as a city grows, each part should grow with it. The low-income and minority areas should not be made to shoulder all of the city’s growth.

As I’ve written before, the city’s growth is relegated to a few areas in the city. Growth-spread more evenly across the city (or region, for that matter) could provide an economic boost to each neighborhood. More residents would be living, working, and shopping in those areas. It would also allow each neighborhood to grow a little more slowly. Uneven growth requires that certain areas grow more rapidly. Because housing takes a long time to plan and build, rapid population growth concentrated in one neighborhood can cause displacement and gentrification.

That’s exactly the dynamic in San Francisco. As of mid-2015, there were about 1564 housing units in the developments in the District 9, which includes the Mission. Meanwhile, the  Districts 1 and 4 (on the Westside) only have about 333 on the horizon. That means District 9 has 4.6 times as many units in the pipeline as Districts 1 and 4. That’s density inequality. To only further underscore that point, the Districts east of the Mission (6 and 10) are growing even more unequally. The have over 40,000 units in the pipeline.

densit vs non dense

So, on one hand I understand Medina’s position. In the absence of economic power, it’s perfectly rational for the folks in the Mission to use political power to extract as many concessions as possible. On the other hand, opposing any and all market-rate housing, doesn’t seem like it has much of an end game.

Rather than oppose market-rate housing, I wish Mission activists would protest the zoning wall that prevents would-be apartment dwellers from living on the West side.

Neighborhood Feudalism

Why aren’t neighborhood activists clamoring for more housing in less dense neighborhoods? Neighborhood activism in San Francisco got its start as an anti-development movement. In the past, San Francisco’s political machinery was run by business and labor; as embodied in Mayor Joseph Alioto. His aggressively pro-growth agenda generated a strong backlash from folks on the left who rightly saw the redevelopment of SOMA and the Western Addition as a racist tool to displace low-income minorities. Meanwhile, folks on the right feared “Manhattan-ization” would diminish their quality of life. With an emphasis on hyper local-control and community input, neighborhood slow-growth activism turned neighborhoods into mini city-states, with activist power-brokers pulling up the drawbridge more often than not. The slow-growth movement successfully capped annual office development  and prohibiting development that cast shadows on city parks.

As applied to housing, slow-growth policies have led to displacement and gentrification among renters in low-income and minority neighborhoods, while spurring rapid price appreciation among home-owners in wealthier and whiter ones.

Despite the divergence of interests, the left/right anti-development alliance still exists. Employing phrases like “people over profits,” slow growth activists decry housing development as capitalism run rampant. That kind of thinking would upend capitalism only to replace it with feudalism; where most of the city’s housing is available to very few and what little affordable housing is doled by powerful intermediaries.


That’s why we’re seeing many more density-equity inspired proposals from “moderate” supervisors who operate outside of this coalition.

Though they haven’t yet employed the language of density-equity or the social justice implications, several Supervisors have proposals that are on the right track. Supervisor Farrell requested a report on the economic impact of zoning restrictions. Supervisors Wiener, Christensen, and Peskin (not considered a “moderate”) proposed accessory-dwelling unit legislation. Most notably, Katy Tang’s Affordable Housing Bonus Program is the first real heroic step toward density-equity that I’ve seen. It’s the first proposal that would actually incentivize affordable housing creation in neighborhoods that have very little. Instead of displacement and gentrification, we could have low and middle income families moving into rich enclaves like Pacific Heights, Telegraph Hill, and West Portal.

The YIMBY movement has emerged in opposition to the anti-growth policies for which many (but not all, and not consistently) of the “progressives” on the Board of Supervisors have vocally advocated. Most of the pro-housing activism has focused getting support for individual housing developments, but recently it’s turned its eye to bigger prizes.  SFBARF is suing the leafy-suburb of Lafayette for blocking housing development.

And last week,  Greg Ferenstein, a writer, put forward a proposal that Kim-Mai Cutler, another writer, described as a Hail Mary:

kim-mai cutler

It’s a radical plan to upzone the entire city for multi-unit dwellings, which is the first step to a more equally dense future. I’m excited for it, and to see how well it does. However, a ballot initiative of that scope and magnitude requires severing the slow-growth movement from the political left. That’s a feat that can only be accomplished if the pro-housing movement 1) takes fear of gentrification seriously, and 2) embraces density-equity as a tool of social justice.

Can 2015 Foreshadow 2016?

One question I’ve been wondering about is “Do San Franciscans vote consistently?” In the most recent election, we found that the voters of District 3 do not. They voted for Mayor Ed Lee’s reelection and for his pro-housing development legislative initiatives, but they also elected Aaron Peskin who opposed the Mayor’s agenda. Why? My best guess is that the voters generally supported the Mayor and his agenda, but also really liked Aaron Peskin’s retail politics:


Aaron Peskin has quietly backed off some of his less popular positions, like further regulating short-term rentals (Prop F) or a development moratorium in the Mission (Prop I). Despite the fact that both of these initiatives were billed by supporters as necessary to “save the soul of San Francisco,” the rest of the city disagreed. With Peskin’s election, the Board of Supervisors ostensibly has enough votes to pass both initiatives, and yet nary a peep. Luckily for them, the progressive media and cabal of activists have given them a pass. Truthfully, the pall of next year’s election where all the Progressives are termed out of office (Mar, Avalos, Campos) or are facing another election (Peskin, Yee, Kim). As much as Mar, Avalos, and Campos might like to bring these issues up again, they probably don’t want to jeopardize the future electoral successes of their colleagues.

However, just because those issues aren’t going before the Board of Supervisors again doesn’t mean they won’t lurk over the 2016 election. Or, at least, that’s the question I am am here to posit. Do the 2015 election results have any predictive relationship to 2016?

A few caveats: Only 45% of San Franciscans voted in 2015, the 2016 presidential election will drive turnout much higher. The conventional wisdom is that higher turnout benefits progressive candidates and positions.

Note: Here is the key for the maps below. Blue means the Mayor won with over 50 percent. Darker blues indicate that opposition to Props F or I (or both). Pink/Red means the Mayor received under 50%. Darker reds indicate support for Props F or I (or both). Generally, the darker the blue, the more moderate the vote in that precinct was; the darker the red the more progressive the vote in that precinct was.

Lee > 50%, No on F, No on I

Lee > 50%, Yes on F, No on I

Lee < 50%, No on F, No on I

Lee < 50%, No on either F or I, but not both

Lee < 50%, Yes on F and Yes on I

Board of Supervisors

District 1: Fewer and Philhour

Progressive Supervisor Eric Mar is termed out of office and the two most visible candidates to succeed him are progressive member of the school board Sandra Lee Fewer and the moderate Marjan Philhour. While Fewer is the more well known of the two and has Mar’s endorsement, the results of the most recent election suggest that her positions aren’t necessarily in step with the District. If we look at the precinct-level results, we see that the Mayor and his legislative agenda carried the district. Though its worth noting that while the Mayor won most of the precincts, that doesn’t mean he won them by very much. Compared to the city as a whole, Ed Lee was slightly less popular and Props F and I were slightly more popular.


While this district has historically elected progressive supervisors (Eric Mar and Jake McGoldrick before that), but sometimes only by the thinnest of margins. Eric Mar won his first election in 2008 (where turnout was 81%) with only 50.67 percent of the vote. Demographically, this is toss-up and if residents vote in 2016 the way they did in 2016, than Fewer faces a slightly uphill battle.

It’s worth noting that Philhour seems to be out campaigning Fewer, at least initially. Philhour has many more followers on social media and posts daily with content from different events. Fewer has a twitter and facebook account, but you can’t necessarily tell from the content that she’s running a campaign for Supervisor. Additionally, it’s actually really hard to find Fewer’s website. It doesn’t come up in a google search, and the only link is in very small print on her Facebook page. If you do manage to find it, it isn’t that helpful. Meanwhile Philhour has a fully-functioning website that’s easy to find and has content in English, Russian, and Mandarin.









Social media and a web presence may not be that important to your average District 1 voter, but it may indicate a general level of campaign activity and sophistication.

If I’m using the results of 2015 to predict the results of 2016, than I have to bet on Philhour, but it’ll be a squeaker.

Update: Philhour raised a crazy amount of money for her race. No wonder her website looks so good. I think this is going to be the election to watch this year. These are two good candidates with strong institutional support duking it out in a competitive district.

District 5: Breed and Preston

Moderate Board of Supervisors President London Breed faces a tough reelection challenge from Dean Preston, the progressive director of Tenants Together. Unseating an incumbent supervisor is hard (it, like, hasn’t ever happened), so a Breed defeat would be historic. However, based on the 2015 results, Breed appears to have quite the fight ahead of her.


The Mayor is deeply unpopular in District 5. He was the first choice for only about 43 percent of voters.  Props F and I failed in District 5, but just barely. They were more popular here than in any other district except for District 9. Breed will clearly run strongest in the Western Addition, Fillmore, Japan Town, and Lower Pacific Heights neighborhoods.

I have to admit that I’m not very fond of Dean Preston. He wrote this hit piece about the San Francisco Bay Area Renter’s Federation (SFBarf). SFBarf is pro-development, but is also pro-tenant. His piece is so inaccurate it’s practically libel. SFBarf has no affiliation to angryrenters.com nor did the organization oppose any tenant protection legislation. Even after being corrected, Preston did not edit or remove his piece.

My personal feelings aside, Preston has the advantage based on the 2015 results.

District 7: Yee and Engardio

At first glance this race looks like the mirror of the District 5 election. Incumbent progressive Norman Yee represents one of the most moderate districts in the city. Unlike District 1 (which was similarly blue), District 7 voters cast their ballots for Ed Lee and against Props F and I waaaaay more frequently the rest of the city.


Not only is he ideologically out of place, he won his first election in 2012 with only 50.27 percent of the vote. Norman Yee should be a dead man walking, but so far he doesn’t seem to be.

His opponent, Joel Engardio hasn’t yet received much attention or many endorsements (Only District 4’s Katy Tang has endorsed him). Why? I have no idea. Maybe everyone loves Norman Yee. He is our city’s most adorable supervisor. He also has great taste in restaurants.

Besides incumbency, Yee’s other advantage is that District 7 has its own brand of ideology. The District is very politically moderate, but it’s also fairly anti-development.  Yee has voted against legalizing accessory dwelling units and against removing the need for a conditional use permit for affordable housing, both are positions that are probably in line with his constituents. Engardio, on the other hand, is running on a platform that includes increasing housing density along transit corridors, which may be enough to turn off voters’ who like the leafy, suburban feel of District 7.

Still, the point of this exercise is to see if 2015 presages 2016. If that’s true, Yee’s going down.



District 9: Ronen, Lindo, and Arce

District 9 is one of our city’s most progressive districts. Supervisor David Campos is termed out and his chief of staff, Hillary Ronen, is competing against fellow progressive Edward Lindo and moderate Joshua Arce for the chance to replace him.

Ed Lee is so unpopular in District 9 that he performed worse than former Sherriff Ross Mirkarimi (who was charged with domestic violence battery, child endangerment, and dissuading a witness). Lee was the first choice for only about 37 percent of the voters in District 9.

District 9 is also the only District where Props F and I received over 50 percent of the vote, thought neither did so overwhelmingly. The two Props passed in ever precinct in the Mission, but were less popular in Bernal Heights (and unpopular in Portola). The lack luster performance of those Props suggests that the city as a whole has become more pro-housing development than it was just a few years ago.

Based on the 2015 results, this race is Ronen or Lindo’s to lose. Ronen appears to be the better funded and more active of the two. They have very similar views, so I imagine that under our ranked-choice voting system, their supporters will each select the other as their second choice.

I haven’t been able to find an election where any moderate candidate received any meaningful support in this district.


District 11: Alvarenga and Safai

Like District 1’s Eric Mar and District 9’s David Campos, District 11’s progressive firebrand (and almost mayor) John Avalos is term-limited out of office. If there’s a comparison to be made, it’s to the District 1 campaign between Philhour and Fewer.

D11-FIMIf Philhour is a moderate running aggressively in a slightly more progressive than average district, than the reverse is true here. Kimberly Alvarenga is a progressive running hard in a slightly more moderate than average district.

I say it’s slight more moderate than average because the mayor was slightly more popular here than he was city-wide. Prop F was hugely unpopular here; (it was so much less popular here and in nearby District 10, that I have to believe there’s more to the story that I don’t know). Prop I was slightly more popular here than in the rest of the city, though that mostly came from that small pocket of red in the Portola neighborhood. Props A (Affordable Housing Bond), D (development at Mission Rock), K (turning surplus city property into housing) were very unpopular here. This may be because the Balboa Reservoir (not an actual reservoir, just a huge parking lot) is nearby and many pro-housing advocates want to see it developed.

The current supervisor, John Avalos, won his first election with only 52.93 percent of the vote against Ahsha Safai, who happens to be running again. While I can’t find much evidence that Safai has been actively campaigning (another candidate without a web presence), I understand that he’s drawn a lot of endorsements and has been active in the district.

If 2015 is really predictive of 2016, than Ahsha Safai should win this election.

Possible Flaws in this Analysis

Vote Splitting

Voters are not always ideologically consistent. I wrote earlier about how the voters in District 3 elected Aaron Peskin despite the fact that they didn’t agree with his positions on Props F and I. Additionally, these same voters were more likely than average to vote for the Mayor’s re-election, despite the fact that Peskin’s candidacy emerged in response to, what many believe, the Mayor’s poor performance.

On the left is a map of Peskin vs Christensen (Peskin is red/pink) with the results of Props F and I (from my earlier post). On the right is the same map, but instead Peskin vs. Christensen, it shows precincts where Ed Lee received over 50% of the vote. Obviously, Ed Lee won a lot of precincts that Aaron Peskin also won.

D3 comparison

Voters can and will split their ballots. Maybe housing isn’t the number one issue on voters minds. Maybe one candidate is a better retail politician. Maybe the other candidate is weak or gaffe prone. These kinds of factors are hard to calculate, but (as D3 demonstrates) clearly have an impact on the vote.

Fundraising and Organization 

I am not (yet) trying to analyze the impact of fundraising or campaign organization. There are several races that we expect will be close (D1 & D11) or where an incumbent faces a strong challenge (D5 & D8). Candidates in these races who are able to raise more money and better organize will be able to move the needle in their direction. In races where the outcome is close, this kind of advantage could impact the final outcome.

That Being Said

I’m not actually trying to predict the next election. I’m trying to see (1) can the results of future elections be predicted by the results of the past, and (2) is the housing crisis the foremost issue on voters’ minds?

If the above is true, then I predict that Philhour, Ronen, and Safai will win their elections, while Yee and Breed will lose their re-elections. This doesn’t necessarily reflect what I want to happen, but it’s the hypothesis I aim to test.